Countries around the world have slowly begun announcing their official submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award or shortlists of films that are being considered for the distinction. In the case of Mexico there is no clear candidate for the Mexican Academy to select this year, which leaves an open field of diverse films from the art house and commercial realms.
Undoubtedly, the best Mexican film audiences around the world, and in Mexico itself, have had the chance to see in 2015 is Alonso Ruiz Palacios
,” and some have even speculated that the black-and-white love letter to Mexico City could become the country’s Oscar candidate and even be among the favorites. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t qualify because it was considered to become the official entry last year, when it lost the opportunity to represent Mexico to the financially successful biopic “Cantinflas.” Ruiz Palacios' film would go on to win five Ariel Awards (Mexican Academy Awards) including Best Film and Best Director. It’s in fact the best choice, yet it simply can’t be anymore.
Each year the Mexican Academy sends out a call for entries for filmmakers and producers to submit their films. The organization will only consider those films that are entered by their respective creators, which means that even if a film qualifies if it’s not submitted it won’t be considered. The submission period is over now and the Mexican Academy will announce a list of films competing to represent the nation at the Oscars and the Spanish Goya’s in the upcoming days. Even without a gem like “Güeros
” there are still other likely choices and many others that don’t stand a chance against the world-class works that will be send from across the globe. Commercial successes like “A la Mala
,” “Tiempos Felices
” or “Visitantes
” will have a hard time finding support, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are entered to be in the running anyway.
After looking carefully at release dates, festivals, last year’s films in competition, and having seen several of them, here is a list of 15 films that look like reasonable choices to represent the Mexican film industry at Hollywood’s most prestigious award show. Let’s see how many of these are actually on the official list.
"600 Millas" (600 Miles)
Dir. Gabriel Ripstein
Winner of the Best First Feature at this year’s Berlinale and starring Tim Roth
, Gabriel Ripstein
’s gun trafficking drama is a gritty and powerful statement about one of the numerous complex issues afflicting both Mexico and the U.S. However, giving the duality it deals with, the film is partially in English, which could become a tricky problem when deciding if it can compete as a foreign language work or not. Furthermore, “600 Miles” hasn’t had a theatrical release in Mexico yet, something that AMPAS requires for a film to qualify. If selected a one-week qualifying run would be mandatory.
"Alicia en el País
de Maria" (Alice in Marialand)
Dir. Jesús Magaña Vázquez
Starring Stephanie Sigman
") and Uruguayan-born actress Barbara Mori, this highly stylized romantic fantasy follows a love triangle between reality and a strange dreamland. This is Magaña Vázquez highest profile film to date and premiered at the Guadalajara International Film Festival earlier this year. It’s non-linear narrative and the fact that it hasn’t screen much outside its homeland might play against it, but it’s still appears to be an interesting choice. The film opens August 28 in Mexico.
Dir. Rigoberto Pérezcano
A personal favorite from what I’ve seen and one of the strongest candidates on this list, “Carmin Tropical
” tells the story of Mabel, a “muxe” or physical male who lives as a woman, who returns to her hometown to investigate the death of her estranged best friend, also a "muxe." After winning the highest award at the Morelia International Film Festival, the film has gone to screen in festivals around the world including Outfest Los Angeles and the Sarajevo Film Festival. Added to this, Pérezcano’s work earned him the Ariel Award for Best Original Screenplay at this year’s ceremony. Its relevant ideas regarding gender identity and hate crimes could give it some traction.
Dir. Fernando Eimbcke
While Fernando Eimbcke
’s most recent indie has been around since 2013 in the festival circuit, the film was not considered last year to become the country’s entry as it only open theatrically in Mexico last November. Given these facts this delightful comedy technically qualifies, though it’s hard to say if the filmmaker will pursue the candidacy. “Club Sandwich” uses deadpan charm to explore the relationship between a teenage boy and his mother while on vacation yo a beachside town. The film screened during last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival.
" (The Chosen Ones)
Dir. David Pablos
This is the obvious heavyweight at least on paper. In recent years Mexican films that were selected to participate in the Cannes Film Festival have become ideal selections for Oscar consideration. Carlos Reygadas
,” Gerardo Naranjo
’s “Miss Bala
,” Michel Franco
’s “After Lucia,” and Amat Escalante
,” represented the country in their respective years. Despite being highly regarded internationally, these type of hyperrealist art house films have failed to garner a nomination from AMPAS, which could mean the Mexican Academy might want to look towards more commercial projects like they did last year. Pablos' film is similar to some of the aforementioned titles in terms of the crude realities they depict. Reviews were mostly positive and the film could definitely continue with the Cannes-to-Oscar pattern, but might prove another hard sale for Academy voters. “Las Elegidas
” still hasn’t open theatrically in Mexico.
"Elvira, Te Dariá Mi Vida Pero La Estoy Usando" (Elvira, I'd Give You My Life But I'm Using It)
Dir. Manolo Caro
A sophisticated romantic dramedy starring two of Mexico’s most prolific actors Cecilia Suarez
and Luis Gerardo Mendez (Netflix’ “Club de Cuervos
”), the film represents a departure for filmmaker Manolo Caro
from the more conventional romantic comedies he’s done in the past. When Elvira’s husband goes missing she embarks on a search to find him, even if the outcome of her quest is not what she expects her devotion is unwavering. The film had its U.S. premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June and it’s opening in Mexico this weekend.
" (Lonely Stars)
Dir. Fernando Urdapilleta
By far the most unconventional choice, this irreverent comedy about dreams of stardom focuses on a pair of transvestites hoping to get their big break while working in a dingy and unglamorous bar. Music plays a big role in Fernando Urdapilleta
’s sophomore feature, which shines a light on characters rarely seen in Mexican cinema. Produced by the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica the film has screened around the country and competed for the Maguey Award to Lgbt films at the 30th edition of Guadalajara International Film Festival (Ficg).
Dir. Christian Keller
Working from a screenplay by Sabina Berman
, Swiss filmmaker Christian Keller
crafted a searing biopic about one of Mexico’s most iconic pop stars, Gloria Trevi
, and her tumultuous career. The film took audiences and critics by surprise mainly because of the authenticity brought to it by the young actress Sofia Espinosa
, who truly embodied Trevi’s outrageous personality and commanding stage presence. “Gloria
” opened in Mexico back in February and it screened at SXSW in Austin last March. It’s also the only film in the list that has already had a U.S. theatrical release, which has handled by Picturehouse. This would definitely be a divisive selection given that Gloria
is not widely known in the English-speaking world.
"La Guerra de Manuela Jankovic
" (Manuela Jankovic's War)
Dir. Diana Cardozo
Nominated for 3 Ariel Awards including Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress this year, this peculiar drama opened late last year and hasn’t travel much internationally. Set in the early 90s the film deals with Manuela, a middle-aged woman who must take care of her bitter Serbian grandmother who escaped to Mexico during World War II. Beautifully executed and acted the film is a sleeper that could actually be an ideal choice given its unique premise and approach. Stories about the Eastern European community in Mexico have rarely been explored in film.
Dir. Andres Clariond
Dealing with classicism within Mexican society, this Audience Award-winning film at the last Morelia Film Festival paints a disturbing picture about the divide between the elite and the working class. Starring Veronica Langer as Mrs. Le Marchand, a wealthy woman depressed due to her unfulfilled ambitions, the film is a psychological drama with darkly comedic undertones. When Hilda
) a new housemaid is hired, Le Marchand’s obsessive behavior unravels. Andres Clariond
’s debut feature is based on a French play by Marie Ndiaye, the filmmaker certainly found parallels between the playwright’s work and his homeland. “Hilda
” will open in Mexico in early September.
"Las Horas Contigo
" (The Hours With You)
Dir. Catalina Aguilar Mastretta
This endearing dram about a young woman coming to terms with her grandmother’s imminent death has been a quiet success since it’s premiere at the 2014 Ficg where it won the Best Director award for debutant Catalina Aguilar Mastretta
. “Las Horas Contigo
” was nominated for three Ariel Awards winning the Best Supporting Actress statuette for veteran thespian Isela Vega
. The film’s U.S. premiere took place during the 4th edition of Ficg in La and was also part of the Latin Cinema section at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It’s a well-made film that offers a handful of moving moments that could resonate with voters, though in my opinion it’s a bit slight.
" ( The Well)
Dir. Michael Rowe
Australian filmmaker Michael Rowe
, who has made a career working in Mexico, received great acclaim and accolades for his debut feature “Año Bisiesto
,” including the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. “Manto Acuífero
,” his sophomore effort, premiered at the Rome Film Festival in 2013 and was produced by Gael Garcia Bernal
and Diego Luna
’s Canana. Centered on a young girl dealing with troubling situations at home, the film also screened at the Morelia Film Festival. Its theatrical release didn’t happen until November of last year, which based on AMPAS rules qualifies it for consideration. “Manto Acuífero
” was not considered last year.
"El Más Buscasdo" (Mexican Gangster)
Dir. José Manuel Cravioto
By far the most commercial and most expensive-looking film on the list, this action tale revolves around a bank robber whose alter ego is a mysterious masked singer. Jose Manuel Cravioto
’s narrative debut stars Tenoch Huerta
”) as skillful criminal Alfredo Rios Galeana and as al El Charro Misterioso
, the elusive and talented performer. Set in the 1980s “El Más Buscado
” showcases costumes, production design, and music from that period in a Robin Hood-like story of a unique antihero. The film screened in L.A. as part of the Hola Mexico Film Festival back in May but other than that lacks noticeable international presence.
"Las Oscuras Primaveras
" (The Obscure Spring)
Dir. Ernesto Contreras
Moody and darkly sensual, this intense drama from director Ernesto Contreras
won the Knight Competition Grand Jury Prize as well as the Best Performance Grand Jury Prize and the Miami International Film Festival. Cecilia Suarez
and Jose Maria Yazpik star as a childless married couple whose relationship is threaten when he starts having a steamy affair with a lonely single mother in need of companionship. “Las Oscuras Primaveras
” also received three Ariel Awards at the most recent ceremony for Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Original Score.
" (Perpetual Sadness)
Dir. Jorge Pérez Solano
Last but definitely not least, the one film that, in this writer’s opinion, is the best opinion from the pack. Jose Perez
Solano’s poetic feature follows two women in a remote community who have to choose between their children and their partner in a chauvinist society. The beauty and authenticity of “La Tirisia
” have connected with audiences and juries from diverse backgrounds. Karlovy Vary, Palm Springs, Thessaloniki, Chicago, and Guadalajara were a few of the festivals that screened the film where it often was awarded prizes for its director and cast. Actress Adriana Paz
”) won the Ariel Award for Best Actress for her work in the film, while Noé Hernandez took home the award for Best Supporting Actor. It’s art house roots and segmented narrative might work against it, but if voters at the Mexican Academy can look past that, this might be the one to bet on.